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Working with Worker Priests

by Gerry Lynch last modified 11 Mar, 2018 11:21 PM

Self-supporting clergy play a vital role in ministry - and we need more of them

Working with Worker Priests

Canon Bill Rogers leads an Armistice Day act of remembrance at his place of work.

Many of us think of all Church of England clergy as ‘vicars’, and its assumed that most will be paid a stipend to work in a parish. Yet almost a third of clergy below retirement age are not paid by the church – a total of 3,230 across the country – and without them the Church of England could not minister to the country.

Many of these ‘unpaid’ clergy work in a secular job. They work as teachers and technicians, plumbers and physiotherapists. They are known by various titles – self-supporting ministers, non-stipendiary ministers, associate priests.

The Diocese’s strategy for Discipleship, Vocations, and Ministry states there is a need for an increase in both self-supporting and stipendiary priests over the next 10 years if we are to sustain our present level of ministry.

The Diocesan Director of Ministry, Canon Jane Charman, said, “Sometimes people feel torn between a definite sense of calling to ordained ministry while still feeling that their working life is part of God’s call to them. Sometimes, they are still unaware that they can continue to work in a job that is a God-given calling while training to be and serving as a priest.

“Self-supporting priests often have the opportunity to minister to people in places where other clergy would never gain access. They are a vital part of how the Church of England serves the whole country.

“Perhaps that vision strikes a chord with people. If so, explore this with your parish clergy and/or trusted Christian friends. You could attend our next Vocations Enquiry Day, which will be held in Poole on Saturday 17 March.”

Find out more about the Vocations Enquiry Day and how to register here.

A national conference last October gave representatives from across the country the issues around self-supporting ministry, some of the challenges around it, and the ways it is too often neglected as a ‘cinderella’ ministry. A report of the event is in the Church Times here.

Canon Bill Rogers, the Bishop of Salisbury’s Adviser for Associate Ministry attended the conference on behalf of the Diocese. Reflecting afterwards, he said, “Ministry outside the pattern of being full-time, paid and ‘professional’ has persisted and evolved from New Testament times.

“In modern times, many Christians were inspired by the French Roman Catholic ‘Worker Priest’ movement that emerged at the end of the Second World War. That movement saw priests freed from parochial work by their bishops, so they could work in factories or at other blue-collar jobs, dressing indistinguishably from other working-class men.”

“In the Church of England, it started developing differently once it was adopted, tentatively in the 1960s, and then enthusiastically across the Church from the 1970s on. People who felt a God-given calling to their current work began to couple it with serving as a priest, and often found radical new opportunities to serve others and communicate the Gospel in the secular world. The first C of E worker priest I met was a bus driver, but I have also met shopkeepers, teachers, nurses and engineers who have combined their work with priestly ministry.

“Associate priests and deacons in the Diocese of Salisbury exercise a wide range of different ministries in and beyond our parishes, but are often not recognised for the contribution they make collectively.

“At the conference, it was helpful to hear of good practice in other dioceses, which could help us to develop these forms of ministry further.”

God calls all Christians to serve him in different ways. Take the next step in the journey of learning to where God is calling you at

Read an article on self-supporting ministry in the Church Times this month God’s gift, not priest-lite cherry pickers

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